Do you have an old flip phone? 5G technology continues to roll out, leaving 3G users disconnected | KCUR 89.3

A milestone day in the rollout of the 5G cellular network will be January 19, bringing faster speeds and wider coverage to millions of cell phones across the country. But the upcoming change, the latest in the advent of 5G, could leave some devices in the dark.

Verizon and AT&T plan to activate their C-band networks on Wednesday, a change that should further increase the speed and availability of both carriers’ networks.

5G stands for “fifth generation cellular” and is being touted as the next big thing for cellular devices.

According to the FCC, 5G offers faster service, fewer delays and greater capacity for users.

“This is the second wave of the 5G era,” said Andy Choi, chief communications officer at Verizon. “You envision over 100 million people in 1,700 cities across the country who will have access to Version’s Ultra Wideband network.”

While 5G has been available to customers of cellular carriers like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile for more than a year, new C-band networks slated to go live on Wednesday should further improve speed and availability. of the network. The improvements will be most noticeable at crowded events like concerts or sporting events, Choi said.

“It will not work”

As 5G implementation draws to a close, delays for Americans who still use devices that rely on 3G networks are looming.

Mobile carriers like AT&T and Verizon are shutting down their 3G networks due to the fact that the network is based on old technology and requires more frequency space occupied by older cellular devices. The shutdowns begin in February with AT&T and will end by the end of the year.

That means older cellphones that use 3G won’t be able to receive calls or texts — including to 91 — or use data services, according to the FCC.

OATS (Older Adults Technology Services), an AARP affiliate that helps seniors learn and use technology, advises all Americans that the 3G phase-out could affect:

  • Cell phones from 2012 or earlier (including flip phones, pre-2012 smartphones)
  • home security systems
  • Connected watches
  • Medical devices and medical alert bracelets

“One of the things we’ve learned over the years is that many older people tend to hang on to their tech devices a little too long,” said Tom Kamber, founder and chief executive of the ‘OATS. “And after three or four years, that software and an old device tends to be outdated and that puts you at risk of the device breaking down for issues that it’s doing everything it’s supposed to.”

Kamber says outdated technology can expose consumers to security vulnerabilities, and now is a great time to ask providers if the devices you rely on use 3G technology.

“We know that millions of people are relying on outdated devices and we’re sure some people in America won’t be aware of this transition and they’re going to open their phones or press their panic button and it won’t work. not,” Kamber said.

Major wireless service providers in the country, such as T-Mobile and Spring, will phase out 3G service by the end of 2022.

5G and the digital divide

While major wireless service providers like Verizon are touting 5G as the solution to bridging the digital divide, so far, that has not been proven to be true, according to Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Alliance for Digital Inclusion.

“5G will not bridge the digital divide,” she said. “Because the digital divide is not just about the availability of broadband services; it’s about affordability, digital literacy and appropriate devices.

Historically, Siefer said, wireless service providers have deployed new services and technologies in communities where consumers can afford to upgrade, largely leaving out rural communities and low-income consumers.

“We know that the lower the income, the less likely one is to have broadband service at home,” Siefer said. “The lower a person’s income, the more likely a household is to rely on a mobile phone, as the sole source of internet service or other free public Wi-Fi solutions.”

Siefer pointed to financial support for consumers who may not be able to afford new devices as well as higher cell phone bills. The federal Lifeline program offers a discount on wireless and Internet services to consumers who meet the conditions. Siefert said it’s an underutilized perk.

“Some people find out about it because sometimes the carrier tells them it’s there,” Siefer said. “Information often comes through community organizations or other social service entities, and that’s how a lot of the word got out.”

In addition to Lifeline, the federal government funds a program called High Cost $4.5 billion a year. Its mission is to encourage communications technology companies to extend their networks, “in rural areas where the market alone cannot bear the substantial cost of deploying network infrastructure and providing connectivity”.

“We need whatever solutions exist to be options for diverse communities in rural areas,” Siefert said.

The Midwest Newsroom is an investigative journalism collaboration comprising KCUR, St. Louis Public Radio, Iowa Public Radio, Nebraska Public Media and NPR.

About Anne Wurtsbach

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